Ghost of early dairy farm hovers over Harold Street in Westmoreland
The September issue of THE BEE included a story by this writer whose subject was historic dairy farms in the Sellwood and Willsburg areas. This is a follow-up article that traces the re-development of one of those farm properties, the Midway Dairy – and pinpoints the oldest house in the subdivision that replaced it.
It has been pointed out in previous historical articles in THE BEE that the SMILE neighborhood, whose boundaries are the Willamette River, Mitchell Street, McLoughlin Boulevard and Ochoco Street (plus Garthwick), contains many more subdivisions than just Sellwood and Westmoreland.
Within the outlines of SMILE are at least 30 subdivisions (tracts) – whose owners, at varying times, decided to re-divide large pieces of land into primarily 50x100 foot building lots and offer them for sale. It is a process that continues even today, in the 21st Century – as developers, at great expense, "replat" 50x100 lots into even smaller fractions.
If you have Internet service, and want to discover when these subdivisions were filed and by whom, go to the "Multnomah County Surveyor" website. Click on "Survey & Assessor", then m.sail.multco.us – then Choose "Locate by address or intersection" and type in the street address. You will see a map with a blue dot on it – this is the street address. Click on the blue dot. This will show you the county Tax Assessor's legal description of that property. This will start with a named subdivision (such as Midway Annex), then a Block number within that subdivision, followed by a lot number.
If you want to view the subdivision's history, go to "Surveys" in the upper left hand corner of the page. Choose "Subdivision Plat By Name" (in this example, enter Midway Annex – type slowly, it will give you a list of subdivisions based on the first three letters that you type in). Click on the subdivision name in that list. You will see the name with a subdivision plat number above it (PL, then a series of numbers, underlined). Click on that and the original subdivision will appear!
This process will either drive you mad, or you will be cruising through the various subdivisions in the neighborhood for hours (a good exercise for insomniacs). Once you see the outlines of the many subdivisions within the SMILE neighborhood, you will understand why our streets are not continuous. Every time you have to make a turn to continue driving in a straight line, you've hit the edge of a subdivision whose owner did not want to, or could not, line up his or her streets with an earlier-platted one.
The Midway Dairy is only described as being on the "east side of Milwaukie [Rd.] south of Holgate." This area contains both the Midway subdivision (1882) and north of it, the Midway Annex subdivision (1902). But even before the Midway subdivision was platted, the area was called Midway, because it was half-way between downtown Portland and the City of Milwaukie; Midway is about three miles from both.
The fields between Milwaukie Avenue and the railroad tracks to the east were sparsely settled before the turn of the 20th Century. It was dotted with small clusters of houses, a few commercial buildings, a school or church; but until the Milwaukie Avenue streetcar line opened in 1893, residents were scattered across the landscape. A house, outhouse, barn, chicken coop, fenced pasture, orchard, and garden composed a familiar settlement pattern.
As described in the September BEE, a "dairy" in this area would have been a fairly small operation, having perhaps as few as a dozen cows. With supplementary winter feeding of hay, each cow would require just under an acre of pasture for grazing.
Whatever its size, the Midway Dairy operated from the late 1880's until approximately 1897. The business owners were variously Ernest and Jacob Groce, Randolph Brown, and William C. Hill. For a brief period of time, a William J. Hill lived at the same address with William C. – presumably they were related; perhaps father and son. William J. Hill was not a dairyman, but employed as a lithographer, and later foreman, at a printing company.
The dairy operators probably only rented or leased the property, because in February, 1902, William J. Hill purchased the former dairy property – eight acres in size – from a woman named Lucea Mason, Watson Hubler, and her husband Fred K. Hubler. Lucea may have been originally from Portland, widowed from her first husband, Mr. Watson, and remarried to Mr. Hubler. In any case, at the time of the sale, the Hublers lived in Baltimore, Maryland.
William J. Hill got a pretty good deal: The price of the whole eight acres was $800.00. Within a month, he and his wife Emeroy Hill registered a subdivision named Midway Annex. Its boundaries were Milwaukie Avenue, to an alley just south of what is now Insley Street, to an alley on the south side of Harold Street, to 20th Avenue. It was north of the 1882 Midway Subdivision, contained four blocks and was surveyed into forty 50x100 foot lots.
When the property changed owners, it already had one house on it, the address of which is now 1837 S.E. Harold Street. According to Multnomah County Tax Assessor's records, the house went onto the tax rolls in 1900, the year it was probably constructed. The 1900 Portland census indicates that the Hills were living on the east side of Milwaukie Avenue, north of Insley Street. Perhaps that was the house originally associated with the Midway Dairy; it is an address that no longer exists.
The Hills, both 27 years of age, had two sons, Dana, age six, and Harold, age one. According to a 1907 Block Book (at the Oregon Historical Society Library), the house at 1837 S.E. Harold was still owned by William J. and Emeroy Hill, although they no longer lived in the neighborhood.
A quick check of the dates of construction of the older-looking houses within the Midway Annex boundaries indicates that the house at 1837 S.E. Harold is the oldest surviving structure in the subdivision. Of course there could have been a house in the eight acres that was older than 1900, but if so, it has not survived.
According to a conversation some years ago with Gene Scrutton, the house at 1837 S.E. Harold was built by his great-great grandfather, John Rader, who emigrated from Austria. In addition to carpentry, Mr. Rader delivered slab wood (the curved outer wood from a log, as it went through a planing mill) with a horse-drawn wagon. A surviving Scrutton family photograph, taken in the early 1900's shows the original configuration of the house (shown at the top of this article).
With the exception of the front porch, which has been rebuilt, the house is very much as constructed in 1900. The most noticeable feature, long-gone, are the three small gable roofs (rooflets?) that surmounted the main porch roof. The primary purpose of a sloped roof in Western Oregon is to move rainwater off the roof of a structure. This would have been accomplished by the primary porch roof (which appears to have no gutters), so the three smaller gable roofs might have served to baffle or slow the rain pouring off the main roof, but in a very unique manner! If any readers have seen similar construction, please contact me through THE BEE.
The house at 1837 S.E. Harold had a number of tenants over the years, but was vacant in 1928 when it was offered for rent for the sum of $20.00 per month. In early 1930, the owner was Robert E. Wintersteen, who decided to build a tool house in the back yard. According to notes made by a building inspector, Mr. Wintersteen also used the shed as a chicken house, but had not obtained approval of the neighbors. After a number of visits, the inspector finally was able to speak with the owner in July, 1930. He noted, "this man has five chickens but says he always had chickens here and that the all the neighbors have chickens." A month later, he noted, "Same conditions. What shall I do with this?" Finally, in April, 1932, the situation resolved itself: "Home vacant. No chickens."
In the years after 1900, additional houses were built in Midway Annex. On the east side of 1837 S.E. Harold Street, is 1847 S.E. Harold, also built by Mr. Rader in 1902. It is very similar in design, but features a pair of round-headed windows on the second floor, instead of the single one on the earlier house. As no early photos of the 1902-built house have been located, we can only speculate about the design of the roof over the front porch.By the 1970s the house at 1837 S.E. Harold was owned by a contractor, and had been for quite some time a rental; some previous tenant had painted the internal stairway purple, nailed strips of wood all over the kitchen walls, and papered the bathroom with adhesive shelving paper. When purchased by the current tenant in September of 1979, today's editor of THE BEE, it was a "Moreland Fixer Upper" in which all the downstairs walls and the kitchen and bathroom floors had to be replaced. Much repair and upgrading has taken place since, and the stairway is no longer purple.